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Where it All Began: A Brief History of Tea

Posted on11/09/2017 by

It seems as if tea is as old as time. Tea has become a staple drink and even a cultural practice in many countries around the world. We want to take it all the way back to its roots in China. The furthest back that tea can be tracked is in the year 2737 BC. The oral tradition has been passed on over centuries to share the story of the first cup of tea ever enjoyed.

Legend has it…

The Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. The tree was a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call tea.

Unfortunately, as this discovery happened a few thousand years before the internet, it’s hard to back up the story with facts. Nonetheless, tea has be known for its humble beginnings in China before spreading the globe and reaching the western world.

Ancient Evidence

We may not have Google results but we do have archaic tea artifacts. Tea has been found in historical, ancient, and aged containers in tombs from the Han dynasty from 206 BC to 220 AD. This signifies not only the presence of tea, but the importance of it since it was included in a burial in general.

Tea really proved to be popular from 618 AD to 906 AD. Within these years tea was established as the national drink of China. A book was even written about the beverage called “Tea Classic” or “Ch’a Ching” in Chinese.

The hype around such a recognized Chinese drink had it circulating quickly to surrounding countries. Japanese Buddhist monks began travelling to China and integrating tea drinking into their own rituals. Tea ceremonies were performed, and in no time at all, Japan adopted tea into its culture.

Tea Across the Globe

We know tea today as a staple in British culture. Tea time was not only a period of the day, it was and continues to be a social and cultural fundamental. So how did this drink born out of China ends up oceans away in Europe? It's believed that sailors travelling overseas brought tea back to Europe as a gift for their friends and family.

The British East India Company had monopoly on what was coming into the country at the time, without the import of tea it seemed the drink way still falling under the radar. It seems popular culture and royalty peeked interest of the people.

It was the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza that would prove to be a turning point in the history of tea in Britain. The Portuguese princess was already an avid tea drinker and was requesting access to the drink in Britain. This royal fascination launched public curiosity and the British East India Company jumped on the opportunity to tell it, importing 100 lbs from China shortly after.

Tea Today

Tea continues to be an important part of many cultures and has become more than just a beverage. Tea supports some countries as the largest export (Kenya), tea provides jobs for people across the world, tea signifies traditions and culture, tea is integrated into ceremonies, tea boasts health benefits, and tea is just plain delicious.


UK Tea & Infusions Association. Tea: A History of the Nation's Favourite Beverage. Retrieved from:

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